The group Kerala’s reformed alcoholics swear by

July 16th, 2008 - 10:16 am ICT by IANS  

By Jeevan Mathew Kurian
Kozhikode, July 16 (IANS) Many in Kerala, which has one of the highest rates of per capita alcohol consumption in India, say they would never have got over their addiction to liquor but for Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). As the name suggests, its presence is inconspicuous except for occasional announcements in newspapers about its meetings.

“There are around 2,000 people who work for AA in Kerala now,” says Soman, who was addicted to hard drinks 13 years ago. He now works actively for AA.

AA has about 850 groups in India and 110 of them are in Kerala, according to its General Service Office (GSO) or headquarters in Mumbai.

It is a fellowship of men and women who share their experiences, strengths and hopes with each other to solve common problems and help others recover from alcoholism.

The members of AA say they don’t keep a count of those who stopped drinking after joining this fellowship. The only requirement to become a member is a sincere desire to quit drinking.

“Not all who join AA may come out of alcoholism. Some of them do go back to drinking. Therefore, it is difficult to say how many have benefited from us,” says Soman, who requested that his full name be not published.

Members of AA maintain the tradition of anonymity. AA believes that those who are reluctant to seek help may overcome their fear if they are confident that their anonymity will be respected.

Only A-class trustees, who are non-alcoholic members, are identified in public or in the media in this organisation. At the national level, AA has seven such trustees.

C.K. Gopalan, a doctor by profession who is based here, is one such trustee. He has been associated with AA for the last eight years.

“There are around 4.8 million people in Kerala who consume alcohol. Around one-third of these are alcoholics. Alcoholism is a disease, from the clutches of which it is difficult to come out. The general environment in Kerala is also not helpful to come out of alcoholism,” Gopalan told IANS.

“When one joins AA, it helps him realise that alcoholism is a disease and not a moral failure. The closed sessions where members of AA share their experience help others realise that these problems are common to all and have drinking as the basic problem.”

According to AA tradition, anonymity makes members place principles before personalities. The organisation maintains no record of its members, nor does it accept any membership fee.

“AA members maintain anonymity because they believe individuals are not important in the organisation. One should not seek membership of AA solely because of a role model - because the role model stands the risk of relapsing into the drinking habit again,” Ashok, the general manager for AA in Mumbai, says on phone.

The AA here celebrated its 50th year of presence in India May 5, 2007. Says Soman: “On that day, we received 286 phone calls seeking our help. Around 100 of those who approached us that day became sober within a year.”

According to the state planning board’s 2005 data, while the per capita consumption of alcohol for India is four litres, Kerala’s per capita consumption stands at 8.3 litres, followed by Punjab with 7.9 litres.

The report also said that over the years the age at which youngsters begin to consume alcohol has come down in Kerala. In 1986, it was 19 years and by 1994, it had come down to 14 years.

AA never treats an alcoholic or preaches them to quit alcohol. “We share our experiences. We tell them we were like them earlier. At the meetings they share their problems. Only a drunkard can understand the other,” says a member of AA who now leads a sober life.

“Drunkards are always looked down upon by their family and society. In AA, we never do that but welcome newcomers with great affection. He is one among us and all of us are equals.”

AA, which was founded in 1935, currently has a presence in more than 180 countries and has around two million members. Each of its groups is self-supporting and never accepts any outside contribution and holds no opinion on outside issues.

“There are no rules governing the functions of AA groups. The only condition is that the work of a group should not affect the functioning of other groups or the organisation as a whole,” says Ashok.

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